DIY Christmas Gifts

spiced pecansA lot of people have been asking me for recipe and gift-giving ideas this week, so I figured a round-up post was in order. Avoid the last-minute shoppers this weekend and spend time in your kitchen instead. These gifts can be elegant, feel special and are delicious. Make sure to package them simply - channel your inner Martha Stewart. Preserved Lemons - Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan cuisine but can be used in most savory dishes calling for lemon. Tasting of muted lemon, with none of the sour tang, they add a subtle undertone to dishes. Meyer Lemons are just coming into season. They are thin-skinned and cure in the salt quickly, so you can still start this project this week and pass them on for holiday gift giving. HALF of one lemon fits perfectly in a small 1/4 pint jar, so you can knock out gifts quickly. Not to mention, you’ll be turning them on to a new ingredient that may just inspire them to get creative in the kitchen.

Spiced Pecans - I'll be the first to admit spiced nuts are a little dated as a hostess gift, but pecans are an expensive treat and this recipe is perfect in every way. Double the batch and plan on making one for yourself.

Herb Vinegar - Made of two simple ingredients—vinegar and fresh herbs— these aromatic vinegars can be made in minutes. Subtle in flavor, herb vinegars impart an undertone of herb along with the tang of acid. They can be used in vinaigrettes to dress green salads, grain dishes or legumes.

Urban Pantry and Fresh Pantry - I can ship this book overnight to you, no probs. Read the reviews on Amazon & I'm happy to sign it for you and write a fun message.



How To :: Homemade Herb Vinegar

Oregano vinegarFresh herbs can get expensive if you’re buying them at the store, so I like to grow my own. I always make sure to use every last sprig. If you have leftover herbs, or a prolific plant that needs cutting back, you can dry herbs for your spice cupboard (see the sidebar “Spice Cupboard” in chapter 6, “Nuts”) or use them to flavor vinegar. Herb vinegars are made of two simple ingredients—vinegar and fresh herbs—and can be made in minutes. Subtle in flavor, herb vinegars impart an undertone of herb along with the tang of vinegar. They can be used in salads and vinaigrettes.

Use fresh healthy sprigs and distilled white vinegar for the best results. Any herb can work—try  mint, lemon balm, basil, or tarragon. Use two sprigs of herb for every cup of vinegar. Add the sprigs directly to prepared jars. (Wash and sterilize jars for 10 minutes in a hot water bath before using.) Heat the vinegar until just beginning to boil and pour over the herbs, leaving a bit of head space. Store the vinegar in a cool, dark place for three to four weeks, checking the flavor after two weeks. When the flavor is to your liking, strain and discard the herbs and store the infused vinegar in a cool, dark cupboard. Use glass containers that can be sealed with a lid or cork.

Herb vinegars will keep for three months, longer if refrigerated. Be mindful of any mold or fermentation bubbles—this means the batch is spoiled and should be thrown out. As vinegar has a high acid content, there is no risk of botulism; mold and yeast are the two culprits of spoilage.

Homemade Fruit Leathers :: How To Dehydrate Fruit

_MG_3639Dehydrating fruit is a simple and easy task of little effort, though it does take some inactive time. One of my garden clients has an old and poorly pruned apple tree, resulting in knobby fruit that is not pleasant for eating fresh. Cooked down, however, it made a lovely base for cinnamon & nutmeg scented fruit leathers. I am using a food dehydrator, but you can easily do this project in the oven, finishing to dry at room temp should any moist spots on the leather remain. Here is a photo essay of the process, taken quickly as I was cooking the other day. Six pounds of fruit made about 70 four inch square fruit leathers - perfect for a kids snack or pre-dinner sweet. I split the batch with my friends Ronny & Catherine and their 4-year old daughter, Emerson, LOVED them.

For more apple-y projects, please check out my APPLE Cookbook, which was released this past September. It has great DIY projects like a Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar or Homemade Apple Juice. _MG_3660

As a side note, I recently returned from a trip to see my cousins in Croatia and my 2-year old cousin, Otilia, would often ask for "compote", which is essentially homemade apple juice in a bottle. My cousin leaves out the sugar, just like the recipe in the book, making it a healthy option for kids.



Before dehydrating, you can add edible petals, crushed nuts or citrus zest to your fruit leather for flavor, texture and visual appeal. Here, I am using crushed rose petals from a Rosa Rugosa plant which can be found all over the Pacific Northwest and along many coastlines nationally. Here is a HOW TO on making Rose Hip Sherry._MG_3911

Apple leathers





HOW TO :: Tomato DIY - Pruning & Trellises

Pruned tomato vineCome summertime, when the air is hot and the sun is high, everyone comes down with a little case of tomato fever. I’m not sure how this plant grew to such epochal proportions as to measure the success of a home gardener, but it has. Today we present tomato tips and tricks, from pruning for maximum yield to easy DIY trellises.

Pruning Those Suckers Tomato suckers are the small sets of leaves that grow between the main stem and a leafy branch of a tomato plant. These suckers, if left to grow, become additional flowering and fruiting stems for the plant. That's good, right? Not quite. If allowed to bloom and fruit, these additional tomatoes will ultimately compete for nutrients from the plant. Over time, this lessens the overall chances of all the fruit coming to delicious maturity. Cooler and shorter seasons (like in the Northwest), cannot support such prolific tomato production -- but regardless of your temperature, all tomatoes do well with a little pruning.

Pruning, in this case, refers to snapping off those little suckers. When the stems are new and short (say, 3 to 4 inches) you can snap them off with your fingers by bending them back quickly. If you let them get much larger, it’s best to use a set of shears so you don’t tear the main plant stem in the process. Starting in early August (after the plants have some good strong growth and the weather is consistently warm) I snap off suckers -- no hesitation, no regrets -- from the top half of the plant. (If you planted a smaller tomato variety or cherry tomato plant, leave more suckers on the plant. Because cherry tomatoes are smaller, they ripen faster and the plant can support more production.)

In addition to trimming suckers, now is a great time to prune about 30% of the green leaf stems from the tomato vine. This sends the plant's energy into fruit production, rather than upward growth. This also allows for air to pass through and for sun to shine on the fruit, which helps develop sweetness. More practically, pruning also allows a gardener to clearly see when tomatoes are ripe.

pruned tomatoesBe aggressive and fear not -- pruning will seldom cause damage to the plant or overall tomato production. Our "job" as home cooks and gardeners is to produce the most luscious tomato for our table. Keep that in mind, and you won’t have a problem getting rid of suckers and excess leaves. One last note: some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin, especially on prolonged contact. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves and long sleeves when dealing with tomato plants.

DIY Trellises A structured tomato trellis offers support to climbing or tall plants and is perfect for maximizing and managing your space -- they keep tomato stems from breaking and allow for pruning. I know everyone loves tomatoes, so now is the time to get in the garden and focus on building tomato supports, if you haven’t already!

DIY Fence TrellisPerhaps you’re one of the many who purchase tomato "cages," but find that the plants are growing well over the confines of the cage and dragging it down. I’ll be honest and admit I am not a fan of tomato cages. Instead, I build a support system of bamboo in all of my tomato beds. DIY trellising is uber-efficient and less expensive. It also allows for easy pruning, good air circulation, and good fruit maturity, as it allows sun to sit on individual tomato fruits, ripening and sweetening them up. There are lots of other options for trellising, as well – re-using a fence, for instance. If you have supportive items like this around, use them. If not, build your own.

Tomato trellis

To Build: You need 5 lengths of 6-foot bamboo. Crossing two pieces of bamboo, tie string about 5-inches down, creating a small “X” at one end. Once tied, splay the bamboo apart, making a large “X” – these will act as the foundation for the trellis. Do this twice and position the the bamboo legs about 5 feet apart in the bed. Position the remaining piece of 6-foot bamboo across the frame and voila! A super durable, strong trellis in which to trail over vining plants.

To Support Tomatoes: Use garden twine and loosely make a knot around the main stem of the tomato, winding the string up to the top of the bamboo and tying off. Do this in one or two places along the main stem, gently twisting the tomato plant around the string for extra support and VOILA. Tomato support!

Watering Tomatoes For heat-loving tomato plants, it’s smart to water in the morning before you leave for work. Watering in the morning leaves time for plants to soak it up before the heat of day and evaporation take over. Watering in the evening results in a drop in soil temperature which these heat-lovers do not appreciate. You wouldn’t like to go to sit outside in wet socks at night time, would you? Same, same.

Keep me posted on all of your tomato successes and failures. Have a great tip? Be sure to post it in the comments.

[One last note -some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves when dealing with tomato plants.]

TGIF Cocktail Hour :: Spring Amaro

SpringAmaro_BlogI've been on a Manhattan kick lately. Any after-hours drink made with whiskey and something bitter has been my go-to for weeks. (I miss you Dry Sapphire Martini!) I'm a huge fan of a dry punch in these cocktails - an extra shake of bitters, a splash of Fernet, Campari or a herbaceous amaro. The bitter quality acts as a digestive, and I like the bracing quality they add as a counterpoint to the sweeter bourbon. Hell, let's be honest….. I'm happy to sip any bitter liqueur simply, over ice. It was such a pleasure then, to recently stumble upon a recipe for homemade Amaro from Beth Evans-Ramos on her blog Mama Knows Her Cocktails. Beth is a prolific speaker and travels the country hosting seminars and classes on gardening - her current focus is creating garden cocktails! Not a bad gig.

Amaro is a technically an Italian liqueur, and is essentially a bitter-sweet infusion of herbs, roots and other earthy ingredients. Sugar is added for a more syrupy quality. And while there are many awesome amaro products for purchase, you can certainly make your own version at home.

Mama Knows Her Cocktails makes a different amaro with every season, taking advantage whatever is in bloom at the time.  Even better, she graciously allowed me to re-post her image and recipe. Here, her version of a Spring Amaro uses lovage (celery-like leaves and a strong flavor that grows well in containers), lemon verbena (a delicate and beautiful floral-lemon herb) and even chive blossoms, which I bet add a bit of kick. Her recipe for the drink is here, though you essentially pour vodka over a boat load of herbs & plants! No big secret, though I'll warn you all plant material MUST be submerged. Oxygen interacting with plants may introduce some funky bacteria to the mix and you don't want to worry about mold or microbes, so just keep it covered. (If your plant ingredients float, you can weigh them down with a rock or plate.)

This takes a few weeks to infuse, so unfortunately you may just need to splash a little vodka in a glass and add soda water & ice for tonight. Or meet me out for a Manhattan. Bottoms up!




How To :: Building Potato Cages

Potatoes, diggin upPotatoes are one of the most often requested vegetables when I first meet with clients, and they're a great crop to grow if you have limited space. Potatoes are a 'tuber', an underground, fleshy stem bearing buds that eventually turn into the potato. (Jerusalem artichokes aka sunchokes are tubers, too.) Dahlias are also tubers, but those roots are simply food-storing roots for the plant. Once the potato seed is planted (check out this detailed post with pics for details), the seed (which is a small cut piece of a potato with a sprouted 'eye') will put on top growth - a leafy part of the plant that develops in about 4 weeks after planting. This leafy bit produces leaves and flowers. As the plant stem grows, they produce too much energy for the plant and this energy is then stored in the 'tubers', which we call potatoes. Get it? Good.

The trick with growing potatoes then, is to cultivate a healthy environment so that each stem produces as many tubers as possible. To do this, after some stem and leaves develop, we slowly mulch the beds with hay which helps to hold in moisture and also creates a growing medium for the tubers. When mulching, aim to leave about 3 to 4 inches of stem exposed and add hay as needed.

NOW - how to actually GROW potatoes? There are several techniques, and I've tried them all over the years. The most common is called "hilling" - dig a 6-8" trench, drop in cut & sprouted potato seeds and fill the trench halfway with soil. As the plant grows its vine, you continue covering the trench, leaving about 8" of covered seed - all the more volume to grow in. This is the old school farm-y way, but can be difficult for urban farmers with limited space.'ve successfully grown potatoes in a soil bag on my apartment garden deck, in burlap bags at Volunteer Park Cafe and in trenches when I have the space. This year, I came across a post by Erica over at Northwest Edible Life, wherein she built potato 'cages' - tall planters made from cementing mesh and landscape fabric. You essentially make circular beds with the fencing and line them with landscape fabric to hold in the soil. Building tomato cages is cheap and easy to do, so I added some to Volunteer Park Cafe this year. One roll of 5 foot tall, 100' long concrete mesh cost me $35 at Stoneway Hardware. I had saved up some cool looking vintage feed bags a few years ago, and lined the beds with this instead, but landscaping fabric also works well and looks decent. Erica has a long, detailed How To post that I highly recommend you read. And she posted her results after trying this new potato-making project, which are also great food for thought.

To check out side by side growth, I encourage all of you to head up to Volunteer Park Cafe one afternoon soon (Agnes, my gardner cohort is there on Wednesday afternoons and I'm there one day a week, too - say hi!) and check out both the NW Edible-style planters aka potato cages and our burlap bag planters. Two different techniques side by side makes for a nice afternoon conversation! And don't forget to grab a pastry - that obviously makes the visit sweeter.

Potato Cages

ps - You can plant potatoes (in the Pac NW) from TODAY through mid-June, so get crackin' and feel free to email me your project pics so I can share!! amy AT amy DASH pennington DOT com.

pps - I'll write a follow up post on How & When To Harvest potatoes, what to plant next in the cages and some other techniques for potato-growing 2015. Stay tuned!

Grow With Us Project :: Swanson's Nursery

GWU_heroimageAs you know, I've started working with Swanson's Nursery to help highlight their offerings and remind people to get out in their yards and grow something this year. The beautiful thing about Swanson's, outside the gorgeous grounds and their many plant offerings, is the resource their staff offers - they all have wisdom and ideas about how best to plant damn near anything. This year, they're trying something new and recently launched the "Grow With Us" project - an innovative new way to connect with customers and offer advice and ideas. Do you need help with a corner in your yard? Don't know what plants work in shade? Not sure what plants are even ON your property? Here's how they can help:

1. Snap a Picture

2. Tag it #HEYSWANSONS & post to your Twitter or Instagram. They'll be on the lookout for your questions and projects, can answer your questions, and THEN (get this)…..

3. Get Ideas! The smarty staff will put together a Pinterest board for you with appropriate planting options and any other materials you'll need (compost, plant food, etc) and send it to you. (You can also browse their Pinterest boards for inspiration & ideas, of course.)

4. 10% Off! They will also add a 10% off coupon to your board for your shopping spree. Just show your board at the register (print it out or bring your phone) for your discount.

How cool is that? Check out this early board for a "Full Sun Rockery" to see how it works & follow them on Instagram, too.  I'll be watching also and am happy to answer any urban farming q's that come up. Have fun!

All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. This is a sponsored post. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.


Weekend DIY :: Boozy Blood Orange Marmalade Recipe

jams_UrbanPanty. copySundays are a perfect day for a longer kitchen project. We have settled into the ease of a weekend pace, have a bit more time for errands and tend to wind down early in the afternoon in preparation for the week ahead. For that, I introduce Weekend DIY a new article highlighting a small and awesome food project that is easy to tackle on the weekend. This week, take advantage of winter citrus before they disappear. This recipe will keep your pantry stocked for the year.

(Unless you're a marmalade-consuming-monster, that is.) Thankfully, winter is the time of year where citrus shines, and many tree fruits are coming into season. Citrus of all varieties flood the markets in waves – first the Meyer Lemons in December arrive, with Blood Oranges, Cara Cara’s and more following in the new year. For now, grab the last of the blood oranges which are toward the end of their availability and try this boozy marmalade, which I know you'll love. The flavor is a more complex take on traditional marmalade - the bourbon adds an earthy quality that I love. Try this as a side on your next cheese plate (and aged Gouda or Old Amsterdam work perfectly) and the Almond Cracker recipe found in Urban Pantry. You won't regret it!

Boozy Blood Orange Marmalade (photo cred = the impeccable Della Chen Photography) [ Makes about 5 half pints ]

I’m not sure how I got the idea to add booze to marmalade, but the experiment ended up being a success. A splash of bourbon intensifies the flavor and also helps mellow out the sour edge a marmalade can have. The secret to a good marmalade is in your preparation. This is a lengthy process, so I typically make one big batch a year and then call it done. All that outer peel slicing is time consuming, so plan for a couple of hours, at least. Making this marmalade in stages helps to break it down. If you can’t source blood oranges, use lemons instead, which are in season at the same time.

2 pounds blood oranges, scrubbed, peeled, halved, and juiced (seeds reserved in a muslin bag) 1 lemon, scrubbed, peeled, halved, and juiced (seeds reserved in a muslin bag) 3 cups water 2 to 3 cups sugar 3 to 4 tablespoons bourbon

With a vegetable peeler, remove the outer peel from both the oranges and the lemon, avoiding the white pith. Cut the peel into very thin strips and toss into a large pot. (Wider pots are better for jammaking than deep pots.) Pour the orange juice and lemon juice into the large saucepot, along with the muslin bag of reserved seeds. Add the peels, the lemon halves, and 4 of the orange halves. Add the water and set over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking until the rinds are soft, about 30 minutes. Cover the saucepot and put in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Measure the marmalade. For every cup of citrus and liquid, add 3/4 cup of sugar to the saucepot. (So, 4 cups of citrus equals 3 cups of sugar.) For every cup of citrus, measure out 1 tablespoon of bourbon and set aside. Return the saucepot to medium-low heat and cook down the mixture. Skim off any foam that forms and stir the marmalade often. Put a plate into the freezer for testing the set. Cook until the marmalade gels, about 30 minutes to an hour (depending on how wide your saucepot is).

Prepare jars for canning. To test the marmalade, remove the plate from the freezer, spoon a small amount onto the cold plate, and let it sit a moment. Push the marmalade with your fingertip. If a wrinkle forms in the jelly, the marmalade is done. If it is loose and runny, keep cooking and stirring until thickened. When your desired consistency is reached, remove the muslin bag of seeds and the citrus halves, squeezing any excess juice into the saucepot. You can compost your solids.

Add the marmalade to the jars. Using a damp clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars, and place lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. When cooled, remove the metal rings, check for proper seals, and label with date and contents. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year.

Pantry Note: This marmalade is a consummate pantry staple because of its ability to be served with sweet or savory foods. Use this on your toast, or smear a layer on the bottom of an Almond—Butter Tart. You can also add some fresh garlic and water to the marmalade for a wonderful marinade and glaze for fish, chicken, or duck. Spread some on the meat and cook according to directions. I also serve marmalade on cheese plates alongside a soft creamy cheese. Store in the fridge after opening.

Washed jars; water bath (directions online here.)

TGIF Cocktail Hour :: Fir-Tip Syrup Recipe

Spruce TipsI spent Easter weekend out in Skykomish and marveled at the many shades of green on the drive up. Evergreen trees stood dark and pine-y against emerald colored leaves and lime-y new growth. It is truly a magical time in the tree canopy - just look around! On a recent walk in Discovery Park, I reached up and pulled a pale chartreuse bit from a fir trees outstretched limbs and chewed whilst strolling. Good stuff. It reminded me now is the PERFECT time to used this Fir-tip Syrup recipe!  

The fir is a conifer tree (cone-bearing, woody trees & I'll be the first to admit that tree identification is not my forte) that can grow as tall as a NYC building and live several hundred years. Fir trees are in the same family with Pine and Spruce trees - the are the great giants of the forest. Tips from new needle growth can be clipped and harvested for syrups, salads or simply their herbaceous quality. Try some in place of rosemary in your next halibut dinner. Or drink it, like I recommend here.

Just as you'd suspect, this fir-tip syrup recipe is made with sugar water and fir tips. Cook them all together and let the fir greens steep, it's oils releasing into the liquid. Traditionally sugar is used for a simple syrup base, but I'll encourage you to consider some natural sweeteners like honey or pure maple syrup which both work using the same technique.

Fir tips are super woodsy tasting and smacks of a pine-y forest. The resin undertone works well with a floral gin or cedar-smoky bourbon - everyone is most often fond of some fir-tip syrup in a G&T, that woodsy syrup lending an lemon-y and pleasingly astringent flavor. (Skip the squeeze of lime.) I'm betting some of you will have ideas, too - leave them here!

This recipe is officially from Jennifer Hahn - Pacific Feast | A Cook's Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine. If you haven't picked up a copy and you actually LIVE in the Northwest and eat food daily, you must get your hands on this book immediately. It's available online from Skipstone Publishing (who conveniently also published both Urban Pantry & Fresh Pantry!) and at Book Larder in Fremont - the best food lovers bookstore in Seattle.

Spruce (or Fir) Tip Syrup

4 cups spruce (or fir) tips 4 cups water 2/3 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, cover green tips with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Strain out green tips with a fine sieve, reserving liquid. Measure amount of liquid you have and add an equal amounts sugar. (1:1 water:sugar). Return syrup back to a boil and reduce until the consistency of syrup, about 30 minutes.

Materials for Vegetable Beds - Is Treated Wood a No-No????

Spring has sprung and it seems like everyone is ready to hit the dirt, literally. This is the time of year when my garden business, GoGo Green Garden, really heats up (despite morning frosts) and everyone wants a garden RIGHT. NOW. DIY Timber Raised Beds

Today, I consulted with a new client who has bed materials ready to go, but isn't sure about their safety. She has a gorgeous stack of thick, old fir beams that were treated way back when when arsenic and other chemicals were freely used. In 2003, the EPA banned the sale of treated lumber, which contained CCA  (chromated copper arsenate), but today that aged wood is often found at construction sites and can be somewhat easily salvaged.

The question then becomes, is it better NOT to use the gorgeous (free?) wood? Or is it ok to use when building vegetable beds? I found a great article in Fine Gardening, though you can read the meat of it here……….

"Sally Brown, a research assistant professor of soils at the University of Washington, knows her way around both food and metals. Starting out as a chef and then a food broker between farmers and restaurants, she became fascinated with soils and went on to earn a PhD in agronomy. Brown’s current research includes identifying the mechanisms by which organic residuals reduce the availability of soil metals to plants. She has some hard-earned opinions.

Brown says that if you already have the older, arsenic-treated wood in your garden, don’t panic. Plants will not take up arsenic unless the soils are deficient in phosphorus. That is not a problem for gardeners who use compost generously. As for the new copper-based wood treatments, Brown believes the actual risk is minimal. First of all, if plants take up too much copper, they will die before a gardener can eat them. In addition, if homegrown vegetables make up a small percentage of the diet, exposure to any metal taken up is insignificant. Do not use copper near ponds and streams because it is toxic to aquatic life."

Of course, you can always look at other materials like this lovely garden, pictured, which I built that last year for a client on Mercer Island. We re-used leftover pavers (from their new house construction) and built simple timber beds using untreated lumber. I know the masses frown on timber framed beds as inferior, but in my urban farming experience, they've held up beautifully. For a fraction of the price of cedar, timber beds maintain their structure for at least 6 years and even then, only demand the addition of re-bar supports  to extend their life.

Was this article helpful?!?!? Please let me know in the comments and I'll continue adding veg bed material options, of which I have many! 

Miami Garden Party :: Grow! Grill! Garden!

Over the years, interest in urban gardening has continued growing and I'm thrilled to be part of a movement that gets people out in their gardens and into their yards to grow their own food. Social_Cities_miamiIn my business, there are plenty of occasions I need extra materials - hoses, bamboo, timber for bed-building - and as a DIY guru, I pick up these supplies at my local Home Depot. (You can sign up for their educational garden club HERE.) It is this dedication to DIY gardening that inspired me to jump at the chance to participate in an upcoming event at a store in South Florida - the Miami Garden Party!

This Thursday, join me and the Home Depot Garden Club - an amazing resource for any gardener, from confused beginners to adept green thumbs. The event boasts several DIY gardening stations, a Q&A with vendors (garden expert Jim Cunneen & event host Ruth Soukup) and celebratory spring food and refreshments.  including DIY gardening stations.

The Garden Party will be an opportunity for people to:

      • Get their hands dirty
      • Get inspired
      • Get informed
      • And share their experience


Anyone is welcome, but if you'd like RSVP here so I know you're coming!

Find us at: Deerwood Home Depot (Parking Lot) 11905 SW 152nd Street Miami, FL 33186

Hope to see you there!

“I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with me to participate in this “Garden Party” event. As a part of the project, I am receiving compensation in the form of cash, for the purpose of serving as the local culinary expert and for promoting this event and The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.”

How to Propagate Your herbs

apartment garden bouquetTaking a Cutting: Cloning Your PlantsSome plants root out from the stem, making them excellent candidates for cuttings. Examples include Figs -- like the one my friend Sarah clipped -- Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Scented Geraniums, Tarragon, Sage, Lemon Verbena, and Oregano. (Yes, many plants can be propagated in both ways -- use the one most convenient for you.)

As a general rule of thumb, take a cutting from new plant growth. This is best done in late spring or early summer -- cuttings prosper in warm conditions. This also allows enough time for the cutting to put on some new growth without the stress and cold of winter.

1. On some plants, new growth comes in the form of a side shoot; in others it grows from the top of the plant's branches. Choose the newest growth and cut about a five inch length just below a set of leaves.

2. Remove the lowest leaves from the cutting, as well as any buds or blossoms on the stem. (If left, these will take energy away from the plant by producing seed.)


3. Place the cutting directly into a small pot of potting soil (leave it unfertilized for now), being sure to bury the lowest leaf node (the node is the area below the lowest leaves that you just removed) and water well. This leaf node is where the bulk of the plant's hormones are located, and they will aid in root development. Keep the cutting watered until the plant begins to put on new growth.

You will know it's ready when the cutting does not pull out of the soil with a gentle tug, indicating the new growth is sufficient for transplanting to a bigger pot. This generally takes from four to six weeks.

There are many, many edible plants that you can propagate easily (including tomatoes!), so share in the comments if you have some great tips! For the next City Dirt, schedule some time for a weekend project. We'll be covering garden DIY – salvaged containers and clever (read: free!) materials to use in your garden, no matter the size.

All pictures (except bouquet) from Della Chen Photography and originally published on

Canning How To - Prepping & Sealing Jars

urban pantryCanning 101EXCERPTED FROM URBAN PANTRY

This is a step-by-step guide to water-bath canning at home. There are a few options to choose from, but all work well. Be sure to set up your jars and workspace beforehand so you can establish a rhythm. Also, be mindful of the processing times given in each recipe.

For recipe inspiration, check out my tested recipes for Boozy Blood Orange Marmalade, Spiced Apple Chutney or Foraging & Preserving Nettles. Or here for tips on preserving fruit in alcohol.

  Wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water and set them to dry completely on a rack or on a clean dish towel.

  Glass jars and lids do not need to be sterilized before use if your foodstuffs will be processed more than 10 minutes in a boiling water bath or pressure canner. If jar-processing time is 10 minutes or less, jars must be sterilized before filling.

Do this by placing jars in a canning pot, filling with water, and bringing water to simmer. Hold jars in water until ready to use. Conversely, I always hold just-washed jars in a 225-degree oven until ready to use. This is not recommended by the USDA, but I’m still alive to give you the option.

  All canned goods will need headspace to allow for expansion of the food and to create a vacuum in cooling jars. As a general rule, leave 1/4-inch of headspace on all jams and jellies and 1/2-inch of headspace on all whole fruits. When using whole fruits, release air bubbles in just-filled jars by tapping the jar on the counter or by inserting a wooden chopstick or skewer into the jar and gently stirring the fruit.

Canning Peppers

When placing lids and rings on canning jars, do not overtighten the rings. Secure just until rings have tension and feel snug. Overtightening will not allow air to vent from the jars—a crucial step in canning.

  Fill your canning pot or a deep stockpot half full of water and heat to a low boil. Hold the liquid on a very low boil until ready to use.

If using a canning pot, place prepared jars of food on the rack in the canner. Do not stack, as you need to allow for circulation of water for proper sealing. Lower jars into the canning pot, and add enough water to cover the jar tops by an inch or more. Cover the pot and return to a boil. Processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil. This can take as long as 15 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on your pot and a timer nearby. 

You may also use a deep stockpot (best only in small-batch preserving) by lining the bottom of the pot with a dish towel and placing jars on top. This helps keep jars from clanging around on the bottom of the pot or tumbling over onto their sides. This form of canning is not universally recommended or endorsed by the USDA. I have seen plenty of farmers and European country folk use this old-school technique, and I’ve adapted their laissez-faire ways.

Using a jar lifter, or a set of kitchen tongs, remove jars from the canner when the processing time has elapsed. (Remember, processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil.) Set jars aside on a folded towel to cool. Make sure you do not press on the tops and create an artificial seal.

Knowing when jars are sealed. You’ll hear the sound of can tops popping shortly—a sign that a secure seal has been made. Once the jars are cool, check the seal by removing the outer ring and lifting the jar by holding only the lid. If it stays intact, you have successfully canned your food. If the seal is loose or broken, you may reprocess in the water bath within twenty-four hours. (Be sure to replace the lid and check the jar rim for cracks or nicks and replace if necessary.) Conversely, you can refrigerate the jar immediately and use within three weeks.

  Once cool, label all jars with date and contents. [After years of frustration with lame labels, I designed canning labels that are cute, functional & don't leave sticky glue behind.] Successfully sealed jars should be stored in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard. Officially, canned goods keep for up to a year, but I have let them go a bit longer with little effect.

preserved lemon + label

Garden Planning 101 - Get Started Growing Your Own Food

Gardening and growing food are two of the most intuitive things I have ever done. This is not to say that I've always had a green thumb. In fact, I've killed every houseplant I've ever owned (including a cactus) and have officially given up on keeping them. All of this is to say that anyone can garden. The only skill you need is the ability to observe. You have this, I promise. IMG_4611Here is my disclaimer - it is helpful to recognize that information often varies from source to source. It is also worth noting that gardening "experts" often use a combination of education and experience to offer advice and instruction on how to grow a bountiful garden. That doesn't necessary mean it will always work for you. I have opinions about what works and what doesn't, but there are many options for home gardeners. I also garden organically, 100%. This means no chemicals for killing slugs, adhering to a strict crop rotation schedule, and in general making decisions based on what is best for the soil, not what is best for me personally.

Additionally, gardening requires one to work with nature, and this is not an exact science. There are many variables in gardening — sun exposure, latitude, time of year, watering schedule, and more will affect the success of any planting you do. So although certain factual information having to do with nutrient requirements and plant science will not change among the information you read, strategies will. It's up to you to decide what works best for you and your garden. With City Dirt, I aim to give you enough information and tools to make informed choices. Happily, there is often more than one answer.

Garden Musts 
When starting a garden at home there are three things to consider that will immediately contribute to your success.

1. You must have sun! At least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day for leafy greens and 10 to 12 for fruiting plants (hello tomatoes, cukes, and beans). I know you hear stories about how arugula is a weed and can grow in any condition, or perhaps about a tomato that doesn't need full sun, but trust me on these numbers. In order to have a successful (i.e. fully mature) plant, you need sun. Track your sun pattern starting NOW. At what point does it hit your property? At what time? Keep a sun log that tracks the sun across your yard at various times throughout the day, so you can watch how the sun changes with each season. Remember, it is winter, so in northern states the sun is sitting low on the horizon. If it tracks across the backyard now, it may arch over the house come summer.

2. Access to water is also a must. If you have to lug gallon jugs up some stairs and across your property, the odds of you watering often are slim. Make sure you have a hose and spigot handy. Anyone installing over 60 square feet of beds may also want to consider an automated watering system (drip irrigation, soaker hose or sprinkler system) so a nearby spigot will make your life way easier.

3. And finally, your soil should be considered. Many soils can be remediated or conditioned, but if your house sits on a cement block, is deeply water logged, or is built on sand, you may need to consider container planting as your only option.

With these three key components in mind, you must choose a space for your garden. Choose the space that best encompasses all three considerations and know that this may not be where you want to put your garden. Far too often, I see clients forcing gardens to work in their linear and square back yards. Let go of landscaping "rules" and put the garden in a spot where you can expect it to be successful. If you're not starting out with your best foot forward, you're inviting frustration and problem solving into your future.

As for how much space to allow, assuming you have the option, consider both your time commitment and your eating habits. There have been a handful of surveys and studies done to estimate yield per square foot in a garden, but these are widely disparate and I find them to be only remotely useful. Instead of trying to figure out how much space you'll need, determine how often you eat at home and just what food your family consumes. Every garden I grow in has waste each season, though that is never the goal. Do yourself a favor and be honest. Are you a stay-at-home parent or green-dedicated cook who makes three meals a day with vegetables as a major component? Then you'll need a big ol' garden. If you're hoping only to start small, if you're one person, or if you have an active lifestyle that keeps you out some nights, a smaller garden will suffice. 

I suggest starting with no more than 100 square feet your first year. Beds should be no more than 4 ½ feet wide, so you can reach in to the center with ease. I like a bed length to be 6 feet long, as well. (I explain why here.)

Sketch out the space to approximate scale and leave some surrounding space for future beds and/or a bed dedicated to perennials like sage, mint, or artichokes. Hang the sketch, think about it, and contemplate the space for a few weeks. This gives you an opportunity to change things around as you watch your sun pattern.

6753665955_2b60b15c4fGarden Wish List 
To help determine the amount of space you will need, I encourage gardeners to sketch out a garden "wish list" of vegetables they'd like to grow. This should be your big garden brainstorm of the year. Get creative! Be bold! Think about vegetables, herbs or fruits that are not widely available — think like a cook. Basil can be found in grocery stores all year long, so why dedicate precious space to grow basil? Try something new like cinnamon basil for summer teas or salads, or lime basil for Asian-inspired dishes. Instead of the perfect red tomato, which a farmer will likely grow faster than you, why not try some odd shaped little tomatoes? I love White Currant tomatoes for their clear skin, pale yellow hue, and sweet acidic taste. Using this list, you will map out each of your garden beds over the course of the year, making certain to maximize your space by timing out the plantings appropriately.

URBAN FORAGE :: ROSE HIPS & Anna's Rose Hip Sherry

Rosehips are easily foraged in fall and make awesome jams, purees and tinctures. I was recently reminded rosehip season is upon us, when I read Johanna Kindvall's blog, kokblog, which I've been reading for yeeeeeears. She is a one-woman illustrative dynamo (check out my homepage illo) and I love her recipes and ideas. Her sister, Anna Kindvall (who curates electronic art), makes this amazing-sounding sherry that I think we should all attempt this year. Anna likes to use rosehips before the frost (more acidic), but I've always picked them after Seattle's first frost - in early November. Check out kokblog for the recipe and notes on making and storing your foraged sherry. And for more rosehip info, here is an earlier piece of writing on rosehips from my second book, Apartment Gardening.

"Rosehips are the seed buds that follow the rose bloom in July. Rosa Rugosa plants make hips somewhere between late July and September. They tend to grow along coast lines and water which is likely why some people call them rock roses. You can identify these bushes when in bloom by their strong rose-scented flowers which bloom in white and pinks all the way through bright fuchsia. Make note of their location and head back in four weeks to collect the rosehips. The rosehips themselves look like little tomatoes hanging off the plant. They are often orange-red and have shiny skins. They are more round than long, and are about the size of a red globe grape. Harvest rosehips by snapping the stem from the plant. They are strong enough that you can toss them in a plastic bag and then a backpack without doing too much damage. Use them within a day of bringing them home. Rosehip puree can be made and frozen and used at a later time in recipes."


Mid-summer is a beautiful time of year in the garden - most plants are producing flowers and fruit adding to the visual texture of a working productive garden. Harvesting and drying flower heads (or herbs) is a satisfying project and the perfect way to extend your harvest. Plus, taking flower heads from plants will prevent prolific re-seeding, which is often the goal. If you've ever let your bronze fennel go to seed before removing the yellow fennel blossoms, you know what I'm talking about. (Note to self: dig out bronze fennel this summer.)

In all of my gardens, I plant flowers in order to attract pollinators and add to the list of plants. Many of these blossoms may be harvested and stored for winter indulgence. Lavender, chamomile, thyme flowers, chives and more may all be harvested and dried for future use. To dry out flower heads, choose a warm, dry place. Molds, bacteria, and yeast all thrive in moisture and can ruin herb-saving projects, so keep drying herbs free from excess moisture. Run you hand along the length of the plants stem, and pop off the flower head, leaving the stem behind. To dry, I lay my flower heads out on a fine mesh drying rack that my friend Patric made for me. You can also lay them out on a clean sheet pan, just make sure to turn them often, so air circulates around the buds and they dry completely.

Use dried chamomile in granola, dessert crisps & even cocktails. All recipes are linked here!

What to Do in The Gardens Now

The heat is on! There are several tactics to implement in gardens over summer that will ensure a successful and prolific harvest. I know everyone loves tomatoes, so now is the time to get in the garden and focus on building tomato supports. This keeps tomato stems from breaking and allows for easy pruning. I’ll be honest and tell you I am not a fan of tomato cages. Instead, I build a support system of bamboo in all of my tomato beds. DIY trellising is uber-efficient and less expensive. This also allows for easy pruning, good air circulation and good fruit maturity, as it allows sun to sit on individual tomato fruits. To Build: You need 5 lengths of 6-foot bamboo. Crossing two pieces of bamboo, tie string about 5-inches down, creating a small "X" at one end. Once tied, splay the bamboo apart, making a large "X" - these will act as the foundation for the trellis. Do this twice and position them about 5-feet apart in the bed. Position the remaining piece of 6-foot bamboo across the frame and voila! A super durable, strong trellis in which to trail over vining plants.

To Support Tomatoes: Use garden twine and loosely make a knot around the main stem of the tomato, winding the string up to the top of the bamboo and tying off. Do this in one or two places along the main stem, twisting the tomato plant around the string for extra support and VOILA. Tomato support!


Summer Classes

I have some great events coming up this summer and I'd love to see all of your faces. I'm working to add more canning classes this year, as you know. Come learn how to preserve cherries 3 ways OR build your pantry with savory spreads like mostarda, Asian plum sauce & habanero hot sauce. I also FINALLY reschedule the SUPER VIP Italian class! You'll want to save the date for this class that is near and dear to my heart - Italian, Long Island Style. This two hour class will cover the Perfect Meat Sauce & Meatballs. We may even sneak in a quick Homemade Pasta. This class is a total winner and a must for anyone wanting to cook like the grannies do it back home. And speaking of Croatia, I'm also offering a redux of the popular Croatian Cooking Class I taught earlier this year. Strudel pulling, dishes you've never heard of and a little preserving on the side make it a not-to-miss opportunity. For anyone wanting to make the connection between growing & cooking food at home.

Garden Planning 101 - The Perfect Garden Bed

self watering bedA garden "bed" is a formed mound of soil that is raised higher than the surrounding soil. Often times, gardeners build frames around these, but it is not required. When I use the term garden 'bed', I simply mean that formed soil whether or not it is framed out. I often build small framed beds for my clients, however, as it keeps things both orderly and visually tidy. Garden beds come in many shapes and sizes and are made of many different materials, but over the years I found that a 6'x4' bed is the perfect size for a small backyard garden, and here is why. Firstly, when designing a bed, you want it to be 4 feet to 4 1/2 feet wide at most. This width allows you to reach the center of the bed from the rows, on either side. It is an inefficient use of space to build it any wider, as it ends up being dead space.

Secondly, the ideal length for a bed in an urban environment is 6 feet. When growing vegetables, it is best to work through your crops and rotate diffferent plants throughout each bed - this is called a crop rotation. Rotating crops keeps soil fertile and minimizes the proliferation of disease. If the bed is small enough to plant one entire crop rotation (and rotate other crops through the additional beds), it becomes easier to organize and rotate plants over the course of a growing year. A six foot bed helps to accomlish this. The six foot length allows you to plant 8 to 9 large plants in one bed, such as tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers. This is your fruit rotation and a decent amount of space for summer fruiting plants. You can also fit 8 lettuce heads across a four-foot width. Plenty in just one short row.

Four beds but 4'x6' is about 100 square feet of growing space - a lot of room and plenty for a family of four to start.